Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bread Baking for a Cold Weekend

Sometimes you just have to ignore the piles of laundry, pine needles all over the floor, and hours of work demanding attention and make some crusty bread on a cold Saturday afternoon (last week, of course; this weekend it's 50 degrees in Boston). 

My first yeast bread escapades were back in Portland in Aught Six, when Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman brought no-knead bread into vogue. My roommate had a heart-shaped Le Creuset pot with lid that was perfect for Co.-style loaves. Over the last couple of years I've had pizza stones but no dutch oven, so I've come to like the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method.

Where the Lahey method involves dumping the dough into a preheated dutch oven, the ABFMD method uses a bread stone. The catch is that to create the steam environment required for a good crust (which the preheated pot does beautifully), you're supposed to dump a cup of hot water into a metal pan on the floor of the oven. I've never been able to add the water without a) most of it spattering into the heating element or b) droplets hitting my pizza stone and [ahem] violently turning it into multiple jagged stones. 

My two-part solution is to completely line the rack my stone rests on with tinfoil, and to just place a metal pan full of water on the bottom of the oven when I start preheating--the crust is nice and thick and the steam lasts longer. Next time I'm going to try brushing the formed dough with water just before putting it in the oven.

Remember to slash the tops of your loaves before baking. In the picture at the top you can see on the left what happens when you forget--the loaf picks a weak point and splits by itself. It was still pretty tasty!

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